Project Resilience - a high school curriculum about the environmental challenges facing Gulf coastal communities

Lesson 2: The Mississippi River Delta and Estuaries

Students use a simple stream table to learn how the Mississippi River delta formed and use Google Earth to explore the Barataria-Terrebonne estuarine system in Louisiana. Next, students learn about the vital role estuaries play in coastal environments, build a model to represent the estuary services provided by these unique areas, and explore how hydrologic modification has upset the natural cycle of delta formation along the Louisiana coast. Students explore how slowing the rate of sediment deposition combined with land subsidence causes land loss in the delta region.

Lesson 2 is divided into four parts, each intended for about a day of instruction time. A lesson plan, including teacher instructions, for each part is linked below:

  • Lesson 2: Part 1: The Mississippi River Delta - Students discover the importance of the Mississippi River watershed and create a river delta using a stream table. Students make connections between delta formation and the land that they live on as part of a coastal community.
  • Lesson 2: Part 2: A Focus on Estuaries - Students learn what an estuary is. They create a model to explore the important ecosystem services provided by an estuary. Students create an articulate metaphor to explain their model.
  • Lesson 2: Part 3: A Vulnerable Environment - Students use Google Earth Pro to identify estuary landforms near their communities. Students will understand how hydrologic modification of the Mississippi River has impacted the natural cycle of sediment deposition in the delta and use a model to replicate changes to river characteristics as a result of artificial levees.
  • Lesson 2: Part 4: Sinking Land in the Bayou - Students will analyze map data to understand that land and marshes are being lost in the Bayou region and use a model to understand how land and marsh disappear when less sediment is deposited and the land is sinking. Students will learn that the loss of wetlands habitat affects species.

Time Required

  • Teacher Preparation Time: 30 minutes to gather supplies prior to each day
  • Part 1: 50 minutes
  • Part 2: 50 minutes
  • Part 3: 50 minutes
  • Part 4: 50 minutes

Standards

Louisiana Student Standards for Science:

  • HS-ESS2-5: Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes.
  • HS-ESS3-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
  • HS.EVS1-1: Analyze and interpret data to identify the factors that affect sustainable development and natural resource management in Louisiana.
  • HS-EVS1-3: Analyze and interpret data about the consequences of environmental decisions to determine the risk-benefit values of actions and practices implemented for selected issues
  • HS-LS2-6: Evaluate the claims, evidence and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Additional NGSS Dimensions:

  • Science and Engineering Practices: Designing and Using Models
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems and ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth System

Materials for stream table investigations (parts 1-3)

The stream table investigations in Lesson 2: Parts 1-3 require additional materials, listed below and also within the lesson plans for each part.

  • Paint tray or large baking/roasting pan with a hole at one end for water drainage (one per group)
  • Large water container with spigot (one per group)
  • Access to a sink or water source
  • Bucket or tub to collect water drainage
  • Books, box, or extra tubs to prop up water jug
  • Graduated cylinders (100mL or larger) or liquid cup measurers
  • Spray bottles
  • Sand (4-5 cups per stream table, for Part 1)
  • Modeling clay (about 5 lbs of clay for every 3 groups, for Parts 2-3)
  • Soil (optional, could use sand from Part 1)
  • Clay tools, pencil, chopstick, or paintbrush to create features in the clay
  • Indoor/outdoor carpeting (strips approximately 3" wide that fit in the paint tray)
  • Kitchen sponges
  • Food coloring
  • Scissors
  • Timer
An icon of a swamp cypress tree